Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Heavenly Peace

I have always loved nativity sets, having a special fondness for the one we owned at home when I was growing up in the 1950s. I remember well the cardboard stable nestled beneath the dining room buffet, offering easy access for performance of Christmas season rituals......

My two sisters and I convened before it every evening, propped up on elbows, to carefully negotiate the advancement of the wise men. It was important that their arrival precisely coincide with early January's Feast of the Epiphany. On that day, those travelers would join the other sheltered plastic figures, an ethereal gathering gently illuminated by a single Christmas tree bulb. That is where I wanted to be too. Right inside, with the kneeling virgin Mary, her handsome bearded husband, and the fuzzy little trio of sheep who cozied up and waited with them beside a childless crib that steadily became filled with softness and warmth.

During the week, we adhered religiously to what we were taught at school by Franciscan sisters. We kept track of our sacrifices and charitable acts and, at each completion, prepared a comfortable bed for the divine child by laying down a single strand of straw.

I wish I could say that I was attentive to the second part of those instructions. The good deeds were to be a guarded secret between myself and the holy infant. But more often than not, I boldly announced that I was on my way to enjoy the crib-side privilege I'd earned, inviting along anyone who wanted to watch in envy. Needless to say, the race to become the favorite big sister of baby Jesus occasionally escalated into heated, finger-pointing, not-so-friendly competition.

We sisters strayed from sainthood too, on of all days, the morning of his birth when he could finally lay down his sweet head on what was by then a very ample pillow. Instead, we raced downstairs to the magic of Christmas morning, extending him not a momentary glance or congratulatory thought. Only hours later, when gifts were no longer fresh and new, did we wade to his home through knee deep discarded paper to make things right for our newborn king.

      The nativity scene at my home parish, Saint Alphonsus

And he was always there, waiting for us. Somehow I don't think he ever really minded, though. He knew he was in a place where he was loved. And I have heard that his patience and forgiveness knows no boundaries. "Love is patient. Love is kind." His words.

Love waits and forgives and understands, and chooses to be born in a plastic trough filled to the brim with strands of straw by three imperfect sisters who, with all their hearts, believed in him then, and believe in him now.......

Friday, December 21, 2012

Grandma's Third Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Party!

Santa cookie jars, one per family, wait patiently to be filled
and taken home for Christmas!

Even though everything, including the tree, goes up the day after Thanksgiving, it never really feels like Christmas around here until I host Grandma's Annual Cookie Baking Party! It's for my daughters and grandkids only...daddies stay home, eagerly waiting to see what tasty stuff returns by the dozen later on in the evening. Traditionally we meet on a Friday at 5 PM, enjoy a light dinner, and then bake our little hearts out amid a level of fun and laughter exclusive to the close company and this beloved season of the year.

It helps to be a veteran of two previous parties. Each one brings improvements based not only on experience, but on increasing abilities of the three oldest grandchildren who participate. For example, I decided after last year to pre-bake the sugar cookies that we'll decorate. Kids love to roll and cut the dough, but waiting for each sheet to bake and cool doesn't work! This year they jumped right into the best part, knowing exactly where to put the frosting and sprinkles......

It's grandma's house! That means sprinkle-eating is not only allowed, but encouraged!

At ages two and four now, the kids are pretty self sufficient so I was able to add extras to the menu. Each daughter was handed a ball of dough that yielded a dozen or so peanut-eared Christmas mice, and a red spiraled log to slice and bake into pinwheels. Butterscotch pudding "gingerbread men" were another choice.

A new year brings new celebrants! "Three month's cute" twin sisters Ava and Angeline attended grandma's baking party for the first time, opting to pass on the sprinkles, but observing everything very intently!

Christy had a great idea. She suggested that we make keepsake Christmas ornaments each year. Her choice was a handprint cast in air dry clay that becomes a happy Santa face once grandma whisks her magic paintbrush across the surface.

Ava placed her little hand on the surface of thinly and smoothly rolled air dry clay.

We gently pushed to make an impression. Then I used the rim of a jar as a cookie cutter to make a circular ornament.
I'll deliver these on Christmas eve!

Oh, Santa!.....his friendly face was everywhere! Not only did those big old cookie jars go home with each family, but hand made aprons declared devoted affection for that jolly old elf! I traced a dollar store kid's apron for the pattern, trimmed them in bias cut fabric, appliqued hearts, and ironed on letters to complete the set of three.

Ever try to get the perfect photo of all your kids where everybody smiles cutely at the camera
and no one has anything to tattle about? Good luck!

Shhh! This is where baby gingerbread boys are being born!

                                              Party favor! Plastic eyeglass straws!

It's fun to add new things to make and do every year, but one thing about Grandma's Cookie Baking Party will always remain the same. Mommies sincerely appreciate the opportunity for their kids to enjoy the tradition of seasonal baking alongside their cousins, aunts, and grandma...everything ready to go without having to squeeze the preparation, the mess, and the clean up into the busiest month of the year. That's grandma's job!.....and I love it!

Here and here are stories about last year's event!